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Hidden Beauty: A Lenten Reflection

Image: Cristofer Maximillian

I was once told we should cultivate beauty in proportion to despair. I think I understand what is meant by beauty, but cultivation and despair needed some more investigation. To cultivate is to seek better understanding and awareness of some aspect of life. It also contains the idea of embracing ourselves with our flaws and weaknesses; things we wish to avoid as much as possible. Despair connotes the feeling of not having any hope left.  It can also be the result of something or someone who causes worry and sadness. 

We are well into the season of Lent. Forty days of fasting and prayer and contemplation of the experience of Jesus in the wilderness. Could the Son of God discover beauty while hungry and alone and tested beyond any level you or I could imagine? Talk about despair.

Perhaps there is beauty in the wilderness that we cannot comprehend because we see only the exterior circumstances and only barrenness rather than beauty. When we consider the overwhelming desolation and bleakness of the wilderness and if beauty is in proportion to it then there must be overwhelming beauty hidden and waiting for discovery.  

The Holy Spirit led Jesus into this situation of desolation (Matthew 4:1). In the desert Jesus was alone with his humanity and had the opportunity to embrace the human weaknesses and flaws that every human being experiences. However, when it came to the point of yielding to these temptations, the beauty of victory over those weaknesses and flaws realigned the balance of despair and beauty in a way that would launch Jesus into ministry that would reveal the beauty hidden deep within each of our souls.  

Despair comes from many sources. Criticism, slander, bullying, betrayal, threats and the list could go on. In fact, all of these and more are found in the Psalms. Jesus was always victorious but not always vindicated in the actions and words he presented to those in the society of the day since they were operating out of their own weaknesses and flaws. 

Perhaps Jesus in those struggles with demons and dense disciples and angry religious leaders and corrupt government officials pondered the beauty of the wilderness victories and that was what kept him moving toward freedom for all who wish to participate in those victories.

Jesus found strength and balance while participating in solitude and silence living in a bleak environment that none of us would seek out for a week’s vacation much less forty days.

However, the beauty God has placed in every part of creation is often revealed when contrasted to the emptiness we find all around us and sometimes within us as well. Perhaps as the followers of Jesus were attempting to make some sense of the beatings and crucifixion of this caring rabbi whom some were declaring the Messiah, they remembered the joy of the woman at the well released from her shame in the village. Or the blind man that had his sight restored. Or the cripple who just picked up his bed and walked off or maybe even ran! Or Jesus’ close friend who died and Jesus gave him life again. These events of extreme despair were cultivated into extreme beauty by the Presence of the Son of God.

How is Lent going for you? Soon we will be commemorating the Last Supper, the brutal crucifixion of Jesus and finally the glorious resurrection on Easter.  These final days of Jesus were filled with despair and beauty. The Divine Presence is always available no matter the extent of our wilderness wanderings. God desires to show us our beauty and help us live in it.

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